Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Mother - Courage to Face What to Do When There Are No Good Options

This is what I wrote in August 2012.  My mother faced more challenges since then.  She nears end of her challenges.

What to do when you run out of options?

I try to write about the courage of my clients.  However, this time I feel compelled to right about someone else, my mother Ruth Wells.  Mom is in ICU right now, running out of options.  We just discovered that in addition to the COPD from which she suffers, she also has a long history of Coronary Artery Disease, about which we knew nothing.  If she doesn't get the bypass surgery, she will almost assuredly die.  But, if she has the surgery, with the current condition of her lungs, she will almost assuredly die or be condemned to breath only with a respirator for her last remaining days.

Three days ago, we knew nothing of this.  We knew she had COPD, but the Coronary Artery Disease, which had been part of her, had been present and undetected some fifteen years. Only last Sunday, when she called me with severe chest pains, which she hoped to be a hiatal hernia, did we discover the pernicious condition hidden inside her blood vessels.

My mother left Germany at the age of 6 in 1938 with her mother, father and grandfather, fleeing the Nazis who were bent on killing the family.  My mom almost didn't make it.   She was sickly with ear infections and a hole behind her left ear.  My grandmother prayed that my mother's physical deficit would not impede their life-prolonging escape to America.  In 1938, Jewish children were banned from attending school and my mother was intelligent and knew she was being set apart.  Every Friday night, during the family Shabbos service, the Brown Shirts barged in their house to conduct searches.  When Mom walked down the street with my grandmother when the Hitler Youth marched past, Oma (my grandmother) ordered my mom down an alternate street to avoid the mandatory salutes to the boy militia.  By then, the Nazis ran my mother's grandfather out of his cattle business and opportunities to feed the family were diminishing fast.

Oma ripped the family from their home in German, a land that had rejected them, to a home in a foreign place, America.  On the ship ride to America, my mother was literally sick about the events, she was seasick during most of the trip.  

Once in America, the family decided to migrate to Kansas City, certainly not a Mecca for German Jews, because other relatives were there.  Mom was enrolled in kindergarten, but spoke  no English, even though she understood some.  The bad girls of kindergarten, whose names my mother remembers to this day, tried to trick my mother and told her not to complete an art assignment that was due.   They told Mom, "You"re not supposed to turn this in.". They defaced her artwork and derided her in English, which she, unbeknownst to them, understood.  Rather than give in, she fixed the paper and gave it to the teacher, all the while smarting from rejection of the mean girls in class.  Just as Scarlett O'Hara declared, "I will never go hungry again!" I imagine my mom's unspoken declaration, "I will never be unpopular and rejected again."

And in high school she achieved her challenge.  Mom had raven hair, dark eyes, indulgent parents, and a curvy body at the age of 15.   She was at no loss for popular boys to date. Mom was in the cool Jewish crowd, and she was happy.  She made good grades, looked good and had friends. And then she met my dad, a tall, handsome, funny, smart boy with a crazy mother.  They married when Mom was 18 and Daddy was 21.  Next, I came when Mom was 20, then Joyce, and five years later, Bob.  The perfect family, or so she hoped, but perfect was not in the cards.  In the 1950s mothers stayed home and fathers worked. My dad worked most of the time, but all of the responsibility at such a young age was overwhelming. Daddy cracked under the pressure.  He wanted to have fun, not be saddled with a complaining wife and three little kids.  So he ran around on her, over, and over, and over again. In later years, on his death bed he apologized and by then he was a different man, but in the 1950s, Daddy, the Boy/Man could not cope.  The marriage lasted ten years and Mom felt disgraced in the Jewish community.  Her dream of JAPhood, for those gentiles unfamiliar with the therm JAP is short for Jewish American Princess, lay destroyed And she again endured rejection and abandonment, her two greatest enemies.

Mom's first reaction to the rejection was not her wisest.  After knowing Jack, a widower with seven kids, she blended our two families in marriage a mere month after the two had met.  Perhaps blending is not the right word because it implies harmony, and those four years of hellish wedlock were anything but harmonious.  Jack turned out to be a wife-beating alcoholic and we were happy she got out with her life.

My mother is a very intelligent woman, the kind who learns from her mistakes.  And she is very hard on herself, needlessly.  She still apologizes to Bob, Joyce and I for her mistakes in that period.  I like to think I am unscathed, but we were all learning that adversity makes one stronger.

They say three is a charm, and it is for my mother. Her next husband, to whom she was happily married to for 33 years, George, was kind, gentle, frugal, outgoing and charming.  He was wonderful to everyone and to her. She had few obstacles to overcome during those 33 years, their marriage was good.

In the meantime, I had married and my husband, son and daughter and I travelled 3/4 of a mile, the distance between our houses, to see them every Friday night.  My husband and I, since George's death, still travel to her house on Fridays, now 5 miles away.

Unfortunately, Mom's blissful marriage had to end.  George lay sick in the hospital with two bad heart valves for six months until he died in March 2005. Mom visited daily in the hospital. She so desperately did not want to lose her love George, but George died anyway.

Remembering Mom's loneliness between marriages when I was a child, I was scared that she would revert to her unhappy, insecurity, no man in the picture self.  But she didn't.  She had learned how important she was and she could be happy alone. I was surprised, but then realized how much she had grown from those early days.  Plus, the love Mom and George shared infused strength into my mother. She would make a life for herself as a single woman.  She joined bridge clubs, went to the gym, had regular lunch dates with high school friends, learned to post on Facebook, to pay the bills online, to text, to live in this modern world. She is smart, resourceful and outgoing.  She makes the best out of her situation.

I, the only child still in Kansas City, have grown very close to Mom.  I see her weekly, when I have a problem, she is the first person that I call, we go out to dinner, to movies, to New York with the rest of the family last February for her 80th birthday.  She has adjusted well to losing the love of her life, though she misses him daily.

Last week, I had ACL reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL and two meniscus tears.  I would like to tell you I got my sports injuries engaging in a daring sport, but such is not the case.  Mom wanted to take me to the surgicenter, but I refused. Instead of my 80 year old mother delivering me to surgery, I thought the job was better assigned to my young 60 year old husband.  Two days after surgery, I did go to Mom's house to spend the day with her and take my first post-surgery shower.  I had fun, watching the bad television she is prone to watching during the day.  We sat on Mom's leather couch, discussing politics, the Colorado shootings, the ridiculousness of plastic surgery and more politics.  It was fun.

Then, I received the anxious telephone call from her on Sunday, "I am really having chest pains.". I hopped in my car, though I hadn't been cleared to drive, and delivered her to the ER, where the news keeps getting progressively worse.  The doctors tell us this is a life or death situation, or more accurately they imply this is a death or death situation, and we are all terrified. I don't want to lose my wonderful mom.  I need her the rest of my life. How can I let her go?

This news is hard on Mom and the rest of us and we do not know what is going to happen.  My mother hates uncertainty.  But through my mother's life, she has learned to turn rejection, uncertainty and pain into strength and courage. Even if we don't have enough time to go through a process, Mom has always figured out a way in the end.  I just hope that I can help her get to where she needs to be, instead of only focusing on my pain of possibly losing her.

Losing my mother is probably the hardest thing I have had to deal with in my life, and I haven't even lost her.  I hope I learn to have the courage to go on.
Hang in there, Mom, you mean the world to me.   I want for you the peace that comes from outwitting adversity, even if that means outwitting the pain of dying by dying with love and dignity.  Just know, I will love you always.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Love Affair With Work (Not At Work)

Lawyers are the butt of jokes throughout the world and throughout time.  Shakespeare famously stated in Merchants of Venice, "First, we must kill all of the lawyers.". Regardless of whether or not that statement is taken out of context, there are many who deride the legal profession.  And many lawyers complain out how horrible it is to practice law and counsel their children to avoid legal training.  Plus, some lawyers are just downright jerks.  

I find this a very sad phenomena.  I guess I am very lucky.  I have reflected on why I, and my partners, love being lawyers. I think what makes me happy in my job is based on universal principles and not restricted to any one type of job.   Here are some things which I think are important to us:

 1.  We have real passion for what we do.  We are dedicated to fighting unlawful discrimination and protecting Whistleblowers.  We feel passionate about this fight. We believe in what we do.  

2.  We choose clients with whom we can identify and whom we respect.  Our clients are not victims, they are warriors.  Our clients enrich our lives and hopefully help us grow into more kind and caring people.  It is an honor to serve them.  No one tells who we can or cannot represent or how much money we have to bring in from our cases.  We choose our clients, enough said.

3.  We love the right to jury trials in civil cases and love trials and litigation.  The rules of evidence are logical.  Law is based in reason and logic.  We are crazy enough to put our egos away when necessary to deal with loss and difficult people, but we have egos enough to propel us onto the stage of justice.  We are willing and eager to fight for our clients.   

4.  We need to feed our families and put roofs over our heads, but money has never been our primary goal.  If all you care about is money, you will not be truly content as a lawyer, or in any other job.  

5.  Our lawyers work as a team.  We do not have petty jealousies and when conflicts arise, we take care of them.  I cannot imagine two better partners than Marie and Kristi.  They care about our clients, they are intelligent, talented and compassionate.  Without great partners, a small firm fails.  We compromise when necessary and respect each other.  Marie and Kristi and my dear friends, through thick and thin. 

6.   We have a wonderful, devoted, hard-working, intelligent, compassionate staff.   they are the best. They care about our clients and they work hard to do their best. We owe them much.

     Our clients keep us caring and the law keeps us intellectually challenged.  Sometimes we lose, the battle or sometimes even the war, but we persist. We know the pleasure of seeing our clients get stronger through litigation.  As Winston Churchill said, Keep fighting and don't ever give up."

To have a satisfying job, everyone, whether lawyer or other type of worker, one must find a true calling.  Refuse to compromise.  If you believe in what you do, you can succeed.  So, figure what you want, fight for it, and you should be happy.  Don't settle for less.

P.S. if you thought I was talking about a different kind of love affair at work, I'm shocked. Those things oftentimes end badly, and sometimes are our cases. :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Here's To America

Here's to America! Here's to the country whose people agreed to take in my mother and grandparents when the Nazis in Germany were trying to kill them. Here's to all of the immigrants who were saved by America. Thank you for opening your borders to us.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It's Almost the 4th of July - Hurray for the Bill of Rights, Including the Mighty 7th Amendment

I love the 4th of July. I love fireworks, summer and independence. Heck, I live in Independence. The only other worthy Missouri town, by name, is Liberty in Clay County. Of course, most people I know probably think I should be living in Cass County in the significantly named town of Peculiar.

But, I want to talk about what makes our country great, and to a great extent that is because of our Constitution. My family came here because of the first amendment, religious freedom, after being persecuted in Nazi Germany. We hear a lot about the first amendment, and of course, the second amendment makes a lot of news. Most of the Bill of Rights are extolled as virtuous Ten Commandments-like rules. But little attention is given to the seventh amendment.

The founding fathers stated the following in the Seventh Amendment: "In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. ”. That means, regular citizens are entitled to a jury or their peers in civil disputes. The purpose of the 7th was to make sure the government, namely the judges appointed by the sovereign, did not abuse it's power. The 7th is another check on the power of government, just as the three branches of government are.

Let's embrace the 7th Amenment for the 4th of July. Who knows how safe cars and prescription drugs would be without the 7th? Without the 7th, sexual harassment in the workplace might be commonplace, as it was in the 1960's, and we probably wouldn't have airbags in vehicles. We live in a time where the individual is important, almost as important in government as the almighty corporation. We strive for a world where people are afforded dignity, respect and safety. Hurray for the Seventh Amendment, which allows us to even the playing field by giving us hurt trial, decided bt a jury of our peers, in civil cases. The judge shouldn't decide civil disputes nor should other government officials. We, as citizens are responsible for serving on juries and for die sing with justice. We are not bought and paid for by political donations, we don't live in ivory towers ad we know what fairness is.

Hurray for freedom and hurray for the civil justice system!